The US must curb PH rights abuses to keep the bases
Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
II is highly unusual for the office of President Joe Biden in the White House to speak out directly and offer condolences to a victim of human rights violations in the Philippines with whom it is strengthening military cooperation by occupying nine Philippine military bases.
The recent murder of Alex Dolorosa, a young, dedicated and committed Filipino labor rights worker, who was brutally killed in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, is one of many murders of human rights workers that have continued to shock the international human rights community. Alex was a committed human rights worker, one of the young leaders whom this country needs to challenge the evil exploitation and oppression of workers rights, rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
Many international and Philippine human rights organizations are one in condemning the killing of Dolorosa and those of hundreds of others who were killed in recent years. The spokesman at Biden’s office said in a message, “We extend our condolences to the Dolorosa family and friends, as well as the greater international labor union and LGBTQI+ communities who loved him.”
This came after an official visit to the White House by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The Philippines, once known as a truly Christian country for its gentle, kind-hearted and welcoming people, has become known as a killing field for extrajudicial murders. Once a beacon of hope for the rule of law in a democratic society, it is now a country that has one of the worst records of human rights violations in Asia because of a small group of killers operating with impunity.
Government critics are threatened and punished with death by powerful politicians and their hit men. They only heap shame and condemnation on themselves by the international community. Most Filipinos are too scared to protest rights violations. Through manipulation of social media, it is a nation ruled by dynastic families that hold the economy in their iron grip.
Evidence of corrupt government deals, well-documented, emerges frequently, like the purchase of laptops for the Department of Education that were never paid for and sold online, and the purchase of overpriced vaccines for the nation struck down by Covid-19.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) has already stated that it has shot dead as many as 7,000 citizens in “lawful” shoot-outs with suspected drug users and drug pushers in the ongoing war against drugs. They say they were ordered to do so. But secret, unofficial death squads have, according to civil society organizations and rights campaigners, have killed as many as 30,000 victims. With this record and President Biden welcoming President Marcos to the White House, the United States has to show concern and support for the victims of the bloody trail of innocent blood across the Philippines and to appease local and US critics of Philippine rights abuses who will not be silenced.
The major issue is how can the United States get into bed with the Philippine government and military while allegations abound that some members of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines or their hit squads are slaughtering Philippine rights workers, journalists, critics, and defenders of justice and human dignity?
President Marcos, his Cabinet and the dynasties that support him are alert to the several downside and negative impacts of rights abuse on the world stage, on the economy and relations with the US. The shoot-to-kill policy of his predecessor, branding critics as terrorists and criminals, continues to cast a dark cloud over his administration. That legacy is facing an ICC investigation that the administration at present would be wise to distance itself from, once and for all. A change of policy will be most timely.
The ruling class is smart enough to know that the United States and the Biden administration can’t afford to be seen as coddling a regime that appears to allow such atrocities. Can the Philippines walk proud on the international stage with such a dark cloud of the past overshadowing it?
The huge military deployment by the United States in the Philippines to counter a possible invasion of Taiwan by China may have a positive side effect. Besides the obvious dangers of making the Philippines a target, and US brothels spawning abandoned Filipino American children in their wake, positive outcomes are possible.
The US engagement and military investment and political encouragement give some hope for a change of course by the Philippine government by having respect for human rights. If Philippine officials of conscience see benefits of governing a civilized nation with dignity by scaling down the hyped-up anti-communist rhetoric, ending human rights abuses, banishing the death squads, freeing political prisoners, ending the killings and arbitrary arrests, and giving human rights workers protection as mandated by the Constitution, the benefits to them and the nation will be enormous.
The government and President Marcos will have a standing of greater respect and prestige in the international community and a huge boost to the economy. The European Union will drop its planned cancellation of the tax waiver it is giving the Philippines on certain goods at present.
In return for respect for human rights and no going back on the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) at this time, there will be a huge increase in US spending on the Philippine military and US aid if the Philippine human rights abuses decrease, impunity ends and political prisoners are freed and the rule of law and accountability is implemented.
In a US election year that is 2024, President Joseph Biden cannot be shamed, embarrassed and criticized by his domestic political opponents for apparently condoning or consenting to gross human rights abuses in the Philippines, a close US ally in Asia.
The US military and navy would have justified its build-up in the nine military and naval bases so far if it takes a more robust stance in support of the Philippine Coast Guard that is being bullied and bruised by Chinese ships that are trying to maintain the false claim to the coastal territorial waters of the South China Sea.
The oil and gas reserve beneath those waters is the bonanza that awaits the future Philippine population (and Western and Philippine oil and gas companies) if and when regional stability is established.
That will happen when the United States has a strong naval deterrence force patroling with the Philippine Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea and also when the United States and the Philippine militaries complete their full deployment of retaliatory missile sites in the nine RP-US bases (perhaps more).
Its plan is to create a powerful missile perimeter as a deterrence to counter the threatened invasion by China who claims all of Taiwan although it has never ruled the island that was then called Formosa.
Philippine cooperation is vital for the United States alliance in Southeast Asia to protect Taiwan, but the US must earn that by helping protect the Philippines and its people from Chinese aggression and economic harm and, above all, human rights violations.